Author: Franny Billingsley
Publisher: Listening Library, 2011 (print available from Dial Press)
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Briony Larkin is a witch. She has abilities that no one else does, abilities that she must keep secret or risk death by hanging in her small English village, circa 1900. Her stepmother was the one who figured it out, and ever since her death Briony has lived with this knowledge, and the knowledge that she is responsible for her twin sister's mental deficiencies, alone. She must always hate herself or risk the lives of those she cares about the most. This is until Eldric comes, opening her eyes to new adventures and bringing her back to the swamp she loves but must avoid—a swamp filled with Old Ones, elemental beings filled with magic and power. Can Briony learn to control her powers, or will she bring about her doom and the doom of her family and community?
This is not a book for the faint of heart. No light read, this novel is extremely complex, coupled with an unreliable narrator and steeped in folklore. It's beautifully written, and the atmosphere and world Billingsley creates is mysterious and gothic, darkly romantic and dangerous. It's a novel to digest slowly, one you need to take the time to make sure you understand where you and the characters stand.
I loved this novel, one that I would categorize as slipstream. It is historical fiction, yet is infused with elements of the fantastic. Old Ones abound, bringing their ancient magic and enchantment into Briony's community. It's folklore come true.
I loved waiting to see what happened between Eldric and Briony. The book starts with a prologue that makes you think one thing will happen, yet as the story develops I couldn't help wondering if it would end the way I was led to think it would. Throughout the novel we get hints that everything is not as it seems, and Billingsley does a masterful job at slowly revealing the truth.
Susan Duerden was the perfect casting choice as the narrator. She has distinct voices for every character, and those of you who regularly read my reviews might know that that is very important to me. Her accents, the refined British and the cockney, are spot on. I highly recommend the audio version of this book; it's exceptionally well done.
This is a great choice for strong readers, or older readers. The complexity of the narrative might not make it a good choice for someone who struggles with reading or who can't quite follow plot as easily as others. It's a challenge, but one that I believe is well worth it if you are willing to spend the time and effort.
Disclosure: I got this audiobook from the library.